Trends in the Relationship between Obesity and Disability, 1988-2012

Virginia W. Chang, Dawn E. Alley, Jennifer Beam Dowd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rising obesity rates, coupled with population aging, have elicited serious concern over the impact of obesity on disability in later life. Prior work showed a significant increase in the association between obesity and disability from 1988 to 2004, calling attention to disability as a cost of longer lifetime exposure to obesity. It is not known whether this trend has continued. We examined functional impairment and impairment in activities of daily living (ADL) (defined as severe or moderate to severe) for adults aged 60 years or older (n = 16,770) over 3 time periods in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The relative odds of impairment for obese individuals versus normal-weight individuals significantly increased from period 1 (1988-1994) to period 2 (1999-2004) for all outcomes. In period 3 (2005-2012), this association remained stable for functional and severe ADL impairment and decreased for moderate-to-severe ADL impairment. The fraction of population disability attributable to obesity followed a similar trend. The trend of an increasing association between obesity and disability has leveled off in more recent years, and is even improving for some measures. These findings suggest that public health and policy concerns that obesity would continue to become more disabling over time have not been borne out.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)688-695
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 15 2017


  • activities of daily living
  • body mass index
  • disability
  • disability evaluation
  • obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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